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The Pioneering Spirit

Women have played a big part in moving the facilities industry forward.

By Myrna Traylor

Facilities management has long been perceived as a male-dominated field. However, this perception is increasingly being reshaped by remarkable women who have made significant contributions and advancements in the industry. ConnexFM celebrates the history and success of women in facilities management, highlighting trailblazers and the new entrants who continue to make their mark on the profession.

Breaking Ground in A Man's World

Lisa Varga
Lisa Varga

The shift towards diversity in facilities management owes much to women like Lisa Varga, whose experiences formed a model for others to follow. “I was very fortunate to come in as a VP of sales in a male-dominated industry,” Varga recounted. “I was a little bit of a unicorn. But a few amazing ladies were already there in leadership roles, and we were immediately drawn together.”

Varga went on to say that there weren’t any barriers to her success because of her gender. “I've been very fortunate to not only work for the company [Oak Leaf] that brought me in but later I started my own company, Phoenix Energy Technologies. Because I was trusted within the industry, I had a very successful business. I eventually sold it and have been in retirement for a few years.”

Now, Varga works to help others. “I am the Chairwoman of the NTX Food Pantry in The Colony, Texas, and am the Executive Advisor of Give Anywhere, a technology platform that helps nonprofits grow,” she said. Varga has also advised and mentored other women in the industry. She assisted one of her former mentees, Ana Paula Issa, with purchasing Encycle, and accomplishment she terms a great industry win under the banner of women helping women. 

While Varga noted that she didn’t personally experience any hostility, she has seen a positive development in the FM field in terms of diversity, noting a significant change from predominantly white male environments to a melting pot of individuals from various backgrounds. Women, she believes, served as a conduit for this change, promoting diversity that has now become integral to the industry.

Challenging the Status Quo

Nicki Frank, Thoreau Facility Services
Nicki Frank, Thoreau Facility Services

Nicki Frank recounts how she entered the industry in 1966. In an era when no women were selling janitorial supplies, she established her own company. “I went on the road selling janitorial supplies when there weren't any women in Los Angeles (LA) on the road selling at that time,” Frank recalled. “I was selling to factories and lumber suppliers — anything I could find. I was in the midst of a divorce with three babies — a six-year-old, a three-year-old, and a nine-month-old — and had no money. I had to start a business. I just wanted to be independent.”

Frank parlayed her success in janitorial sales into a stake in a real estate company that went under in the late ’80s. She lost everything and had to start over again.

But Frank was fortunate. She happened to be looking out of a window and saw a woman vacuuming an office space nearby. She realized that although one business sector was in a slump, everyone still needed their spaces maintained.

“I found out who this woman worked for,” Frank said, “and I met with her and said, ‘I know many people in LA. Let me help you get some clients if you're interested.’ I was doing it on a whim.” Frank entered into a partnership with the cleaning service owner, and within three months, they had dozens of clients. A few years later, in 1990, Frank founded Thoreau Facility Services, and took her luxury retail-focused all-trades service firm nationwide. She joined ConnexFM (then known as PRSM) and was able to take advantage of the shared knowledge and camaraderie that came with membership. She also mentored members within the ConnexFM association.

“I was on a WIA panel discussion when it was just starting, and I had advice for those in attendance,” she said. “I detailed my early mistakes as a business owner. I was a micromanager, and it hurt people and hurt the company. Your company will not grow as quickly or become as large if you're micromanaging. Hire great people and let them be great. That was my advice to people starting in business — men or women.”         

Even though she is no longer involved in daily operations at Thoreau, she continues to serve as the brand standard-bearer, speaking with clients and new prospects in the U.S., Canada and Guam.

Moving Ahead

Jaclyn Gould, [solidcore]
Jaclyn Gould, [solidcore]

These pioneering efforts disrupted the status quo and laid a foundation for an industry that values skills, insight and leadership — irrespective of gender. Women like Jaclyn Gould, Senior Manager of Facilities & Equipment at [solidcore], a boutique fitness retailer with 115 locations nationwide, faced the challenge of being perceived as inexperienced due to her age rather than being second-guessed because of her gender.

Gould made the shift into FM after starting as a project manager with furniture, fixtures and equipment procurement firm. “When I was leaving my previous job, I looked at what positions were open with [solidcore] because I really liked their company and its values, as well as based on my experience as a client,” she said. “I saw this role in facilities and thought, ‘That sounds fun.’ It was different than what I was doing at the time. But it tied into my background with project management, contracts and procurement.”

Gould has been with [solidcore] for two years now and feels that even though she’s become well-versed in FM, she learns new things every day. She has also tapped into the ConnexFM network; she joined WIA and the Young Professionals Committee and attended her first National Conference in 2023.

“People value the work that we're doing, and it’s empowering to have the responsibility to get work done and to make decisions,” Gould said.

The presence of women in facilities management brings a unique perspective that enhances problem-solving and decision-making processes. It introduces a level of empathy and communication often needed in the coordination of the wide array of services and people that fall under the purview of facilities management.

For aspiring women in facilities management, their history is still in the making, and their stories will form a legacy for future generations of professionals.

Check out the recent "The Daily Grind" episode highlighting the impact of women in the FM industry!

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